The military along with its partners in industry have been figuring out ways to build lasers and other directed energy weapons over the past 20 years. Many of the devices that were initially chemical lasers have now become more reliable. Even the power has grown from a few watts to dozens of kilowatts. But, it is still not as good as it sounds.
In an address in Washington D.C. at the second annual Direct Energy Summit, Air Force Leaders iterated that there are still many hurdles remaining. The conference was hosted by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. This is a Washington think tank that was created in order to bring together the brightest minds to discuss advancements on such weapons.
Most of the top brass is quite eager to get the technology in the field since the weapons have the potential of shutting down enemy vehicles or communication networks. They can even destroy incoming missiles or could do damage in a number of other ways. However, deployment of these weapons in the field is a major challenge.
In the early 2000s, the Air Force had deployed its first directed energy weapon that was large enough to take up the space of an entire modified Boeing 747. On the other hand, the Navy?s test version that was installed on the amphibious transport dock Ponce actually has enough weight that it can?t be lifted by any average aircraft. Lastly, the technology has to be tested well in order to make the budgets, purchase drafts, operational drafts, planning, approval and training before it can be used.
According to the Head of Air Force Special Operations Command Gen. Bradley Heithold, ?You?ve got to have a wheelbarrow full of paper before you get a wheelbarrow full of money. Well, we?re busy filling the wheelbarrow full of paper.?
He added that the Air Force needs to technology to be able to silently and quickly sabotage enemy weapons or systems without raising any alarms.
?I?m a firm believer that it?s time we take directed energy in the form of high-energy lasers and move it into the battlefield on an AC-130 gunship,? he added. ?The next weapon is a directed energy weapon.?
Heithold as of the view that there are still a lot of challenges for directed energy weapons to become reality. According to him, some of the biggest issues include the size and weight of a potential laser before it can be installed on an aircraft.
?You get 5,000 pounds and you get that pallet position. Design it to fit in that area,? he iterated while talking in the conference.
Similarly, Lt. Gen. William Etter is also in favor of the lasers but for a completely other mission set than Heithold. He is the commander of the 1st Air Force and it is his duty to keep the America safe from any air attack. This could include using lasers to attack any incoming missiles. However, what needs to be kept in mind that the knocked down missiles do not do any collateral damage.
He said during the conference, ?We?ve got an additional consideration, though, and this is pretty important to us: We?ve got to make sure that we don?t hit the other folks. Because in the homeland we have civilian airliners, we have small aircraft, you can range even up to a satellite. ? We have to be exactly precise.?